I was leading a workshop on knowledge management for a group of medical doctors from the public health sector. I told them the story of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, an eye surgeon who was frustrated over the high cost of manufacturing and surgically implanting intraocular lenses (IOLs) in India. Tens of thousands of people were needlessly going blind every year. On a trip to the US he became fascinated with McDonald’s, and how remarkably efficient their whole process was. He took this idea back home and began manufacturing IOLs locally at a small fraction of the going price. As a result, many hundreds of thousands of people have had their eyesight restored.
I was astonished when some of the doctors in the audience objected saying, “That’s not a good example to use, because McDonald’s sells junk food with trans-fats, which goes against our goal of promoting health.” They couldn’t see that the main point was the process that was being adapted to solve a problem. It had nothing to do with unhealthy food.
What did I learn from all this? That people, whether individually or in a group, are quick to leap to conclusions, which can result in one or more missed opportunities. Out of a hundred things, they will zero in on the one that has some perceived error or flaw, and ignore everything else, especially if it comes from outside their own sphere of influence.
One way I’ve attempted to overcome this tendency is to do what salespeople and professional speakers often do, which is to pre-empt objections by dealing with them before the audience has had a chance to raise them.
So before introducing a new idea from a different domain or discipline, be sure to “prep” the audience in a way that helps them think outside their own boundaries. Tell them that what they are about to see may at first seem totally unrelated, and challenge them to “stretch” their imagination to see how, by making some adjustments, that seemingly irrelevant solution can be applied to their own situation.
Get them to see that they shouldn’t dismiss something outright just because it doesn’t fit their world view. Part of it might hold the key to solving the problem they’re facing. Try to get them to look beyond their own boundaries for ideas, no matter how highly specialized they perceive their area of expertise to be.
How do you actually do that? Now that’s a totally different story…